If I Needed You

Longtime learners and lurkers here at CommunityGuitar.com will know that some of our songs lend themselves to a wide variety of interpretations. It is not uncommon for us to play a country tune, for example, that has also been played in a jazz or blues style. Or vice versa. Great songs are often made of such moist and malleable clay; make of them what you will.

But not all, and not this one. It first appeared in 1972 on The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt at a time when its author was not only very much alive but at his most prolific and powerful. That record was his sixth, and his second in the same year. With this performance, Van Zandt fashions the folky-fingerstyle mold that has been used and reused with only minor modifications by the many artists who have covered the song since.

Audio Clip: Townes Van Zandt plays If I Needed You, from The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt, 1972

That was the first Van Zandt album that Lyle Lovett ever bought. As Lovett recounted in a 1998 interview, he'd heard Don Sanders play Pancho and Lefty in a Houston club. "He introduced the song and said who had written it, and I went out and found The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt. It was one of those albums I tried to learn every song on." He must have successfully learned at least a few of them: four VZ titles are included on Lovett's double CD, Step Inside This House. In this audio clip, Lovett pours his talents into Van Zandt's mold for his cover of If I Needed You.

Audio clip: Lyle Lovett performs If I Needed You, from Step Inside This House, 1998

If the song tends to be performed in a fairly predictable style, there is one common variation on the theme worthy of mention, namely, that it makes for a nice duet. In fact, the most popular cover of the tune to date was offered up in tandem by Emmylou Harris and Don Williams. Before being included on Harris' 1981 album, Cimarron, it was released as a single and reached #3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. That performance was no doubt the inspiration for others we've heard since, like that of Ricky Skaggs and his wife, Sharon White. Let's listen to samples of both, then get busy working it up ourselves. Sing it for —or with—someone you love.

Audio Clip: Emmylou Harris and Don Williams sing If I Needed You.

Audio Clip: Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White sing If I Needed You.